Building the best team from the PFF College era: Bijan Robinson and Jalen Carter lone 2023 NFL Draft prospects included

San Antonio, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson (5) scores on a 21-yard touchdown run against the Colorado Buffaloes during the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

  • Bijan Robinson: The Texas product is the lone offensive player from the 2023 NFL Draft who makes the list.
  • Jalen Carter: Much like Robinson, the Georgia defensive tackle is the lone defender from this year's class to make the list.
  • Alabama well represented: The Crimson Tide had five players from the PFF College era make the list.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

It’s been nearly nine years since PFF founder Neil Hornsby organized a company-wide call in August 2014 to let us know we’d be taking on the unenviable task of grading every single FBS football game that season. We were so short-staffed for the task that it took through February to finish off the season's grades. 

Now, here we are with nine seasons in the books looking back at the best of the best over that span. These are the top prospects at every position that we’ve graded at the collegiate level.

QB: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (2021)

HM: Joe Burrow, LSU (2020)

Obviously, Patrick Mahomes was the actual top prospect over the past nine years, but if anyone says they told you so at the time, the chances are they’re lying. Lawrence was as clean a prospect as we’ve seen with pretty much every single box ticked.

RB: Bijan Robinson, Texas (2023)

HM: Saquon Barkley, Penn State (2018)

The same thing I just said about Lawrence applies to Robinson, his game has no weaknesses. Saquon Barkley was the better testing athlete, but he had running style concerns that Robinson does not. He also set the PFF college record with 104 broken tackles this fall, which is a pretty good indicator of his translatability.

WR: Ja’Marr Chase, LSU (2021)

HM: Devonta Smith, Alabama (2021)

Chase was the Biletnikoff winner at 19 years old in the SEC. He went for 1,780 yards and 20 scores that season, including 221 and two in the national title game. Oh, and he ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash with a 41-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump at his pro day at 6-foot and 201 pounds. Freak.

WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama (2015)

HM: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama (2020)

In our first year of college grading, Cooper absolutely stuffed the stat sheet, putting up 124 catches, 1,727 yards and 16 scores for the Crimson Tide to be college football's highest-graded receiver. He also led the country with 26 broken tackles. He was a sure thing.

Slot: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (2021)

HM: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (2023)

People may forget that DeVonta Smith’s Heisman season was only possible because Waddle got injured four games in. Waddle had more yards (557 versus 483) and the same amount of scores (four) before going down with an injury. He was and still is one of the most athletic gifted all-around athletes to grace a football field at wide receiver. 

TE: Kyle Pitts, Florida (2021)

HM: Dalton Kincaid, Utah (2023)

The fact that Pitts went ahead of Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Penei Sewell and Micah Parsons — all first-team members on this list — should tell you everything you need to know about him as a prospect. He went for 770 yards and 12 scores in eight games in his final season at Florida. Amazingly, after two seasons in the NFL, Pitts is still younger than this year’s top tight end prospect Dalton Kincaid.

LT: Penei Sewell, Oregon (2021)

HM: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss (2016)

We called Sewell the best tackle prospect in the PFF era when he was coming out of Oregon, and he’s lived up to those expectations through two seasons. He was the highest-graded tackle in all of college football as a 19-year-old sophomore in 2019 before he sat out all of the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

LG: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame (2018)

HM: Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC (2021)

I called Nelson a future Hall of Famer as a prospect and if injuries hadn’t reared their ugly head, he’d be a shoo-in for the honor. He earned a 92.2 overall grade his final season at Notre Dame with 90.0-plus run and pass-blocking grades.

C: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa (2022)

HM: Landon Dickerson, Alabama (2021)

Linderbaum was the highest-graded center in college football for back-to-back seasons before he declared for the draft. He was also a freak of nature athletically with a 7.13-second three-cone at 302 pounds. How he’ll fare in the league remains to be seen, but he’s already a plus run-blocker on the move.

RG: Frank Ragnow, Arkansas (2018)

HM: Laken Tomlinson, Duke (2015)

Some may call this cheating, but when you look at the amount of top interior prospects that actually played right guard in college, there are slim pickings. Ragnow was obviously a top center prospect — and has played like one for the Lions — even though he played 1,024 snaps at right guard in his career. 

RT: Tristan Wirfs, Iowa (2020)

HM: Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama (2020)

Wirfs is one of the few elite tackle prospects that played on the right side in college. He improved by leaps and bounds in all three seasons at Iowa, as he finished with a 92.3 overall grade in his final season. He’s continued to do so in the NFL, as he’s comfortably a top-three right tackle at the moment.

DT: Quinnen Williams, Alabama (2019)

HM: Jonathan Allen, Alabama (2017)

Williams' 96.0 overall grade in 2018 is still the gold standard in the PFF era for defensive tackles. And he did it in his very first season as a starter. That was an odd prospect profile for sure, but as we saw this past fall, his talent is off the charts.

DT: Jalen Carter, Georgia (2023)

HM: DeForest Buckner, Oregon (2016)

Both Jonathan Allen and DeForest Buckner were top-three players on the PFF draft board in their respective classes, but I’d take Carter on the field over both as prospects. He’s more explosive and violent…when he wants to be.

PFF's 2023 NFL Draft Guide is available for download to all PFF+ subscribers. Click here to download the guide today! 

ED: Chase Young, Ohio State (2020)

HM: Nick Bosa, Ohio State (2019)

Young set the PFF record for edge rushers with a 96.0 overall grade in 2019, as he was as unblockable as you’ll see in college football. That came a year after he led the FBS with 75 pressures as a true sophomore. It’s sad an ACL tear has derailed his career early on.

ED: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (2017)

HM: Joey Bosa, Ohio State (2016)

You could tell Garrett was a different breed from the moment he stepped on a college football field. He totaled 65 pressures and a 92.1 pass-rushing grade as a true freshman. While he didn’t develop a ton in his time at Texas A&M, he was a super freak in the pre-draft process with a 41-inch vertical at 272 pounds.

LB: Micah Parsons, Penn State (2021)

HM: Roquan Smith, Georgia (2018)

I called Parsons the best linebacker prospect since Luke Kuechley before he even opted out of the 2021 season. The fact that he was so easily able to transition to the edge and rack up the most pressures in the NFL last season (90) just speaks to how special he is as an athlete.

LB: Reuben Foster, Alabama (2017)

HM: Myles Jack, UCLA (2016)

Foster was one of the best collegiate linebackers these eyes have ever seen. By Year 3 at Alabama, he saw the game like he was Nick Saban on the field. He earned a ridiculous 94.9 run-defense grade in 2016 with 68 total defensive stops. Off the field was always the worry, though, as he was even kicked out of the combine for arguing with a hospital worker. After earning an 81.2 overall grade as a rookie for the 49ers, the wheels fell off, and he’s only played 337 snaps since.

CB: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State (2016)

HM: Sauce Gardner, Cincinnati (2022)

Ramsey played all over for Florida State’s secondary over the course of his career and dominated at every alignment. He had a season at safety, one in the slot, and another at outside corner, and he never earned lower than a 77.3 coverage grade.

CB: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU (2022)

HM: Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State (2017)

Stingley’s true freshman season at LSU is still the best we’ve ever seen from a corner. He earned an 89.8 coverage grade with four interceptions and 14 pass-breakups in LSU’s run to the national title. His ball skills and sticky man coverage ability should look way better in DeMeco Ryans' scheme. 

Slot: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama (2018)

HM: Brian Branch, Alabama (2023)

Fitzpatrick was a rare true freshman starter on Nick Saban’s defense back in 2015. He earned 75.9, 90.3 and 82.4 coverage grades while playing almost solely in the slot during his career. That’s a very similar trajectory to Brian Branch, although Fitzpatrick had more prototypical tools.

S: Derwin James, Florida State (2018)

HM: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame (2022)

James was a terror coming out of Florida State, and I still don't know how he fell to the 17th overall pick. He was the highest-graded safety in college football as both a freshman and junior.

S: Jamal Adams, LSU (2017)

HM: Malik Hooker, Ohio State (2017)

Adams was a three-year starter at LSU who earned a 90.4 run defense grade and 89.8 coverage grade in his final season with the Tigers. He was as versatile a safety prospect as you’ll see with over 400 snaps in the slot, box and deep in his career.

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